Pralhad Joshi, Union minister for coal and mines, on Friday said the ministry has accepted the proposal of the Chhattisgarh government to exclude five coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand, one of country’s most pristine forest areas, and other bio-diversity-rich areas from commercial mining, but has also acceded to include three new ones in a bid to reduce the country’s coal import bill.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on June 17 the auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining by private players following which the Jharkhand government had moved the Supreme Court objecting to the bidding process because the state governments were not consulted.
Chhattisgarh government had also objected and asked the coal ministry not to allow the auction of coal blocks which fall under Hasdeo Arand, Lemru elephant reserve and the Mand river catchment area that is a part of the biodiversity-rich forests.
On Thursday, Joshi had met Jharkhand government officials and discussed the sticking point about the bidding process.
Later, he told media persons that he had requested Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren to reconsider his government’s stand on commercial mining.
“We are importing 250 million tonnes of coal every year because of the shortage.
The Centre wants to compensate the shortage by opening up coal blocks for commercial mining,” Joshi had said.
Soren, however, stuck to his stand and insisted that the Centre should have discussed the issue with state governments.
On Friday, Joshi met Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel and said that the latter has agreed to replace the five contentious coal blocks with three new ones, which would be added to the list for auction as per the state government’s suggestion.
“At present, the total number of coal blocks put on auction in Chhattisgarh for commercial mining shall be seven (instead of nine earlier). Three new coal blocks will also be added to the list,” the minister said.
Of the nine coal blocks, five fall under Hasdeo Arand, including Morga -2, Morga (South), Madanpur north, Shyang, and Fathehpur (east). The other four coal blocks are Gare Palema (4/1), Gare Palema (4/7), Shankarpur Bhatgaon (second extension) and Sondhia.
On June 20, in a letter to Joshi, Chhattisgarh forest minister Mohammad Akbar had said, “Coal block between Hasdeo Arand and Mand river area also proposed for auction by the Union government … However, recently, there has been an increase in the numbers of wild elephants in the state, which has led to a spike in human-elephant conflict. For providing habitat for wild elephants, 1,995 square kilometres of forest area around Hasdeo river has been declared as Lemru elephant reserve. The process of issuing notification has started,” the state forest minister had said in the letter.
Akbar said commercial mining in the area had to be stopped in a bid to ensure human lives are not lost due to man-elephant conflict.
Joshi said the meeting with CM Baghel was positive and the commencement of commercial coal mining would usher in a new era of growth and development in Chhattisgarh.
“Under commercial coal mining, the state will fetch a minimum of Rs 4,400 crore revenue in one year. It will also create around 60,000 additional employment. Additionally, commercial coal mining will contribute around Rs 25 crore to the various district Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds of the state that can be used for inclusive development of regions surrounding coalfield areas,” Joshi said.